I continue to be fascinated by Ainslie’s Breakdown of Will; which argues that the core challenge of our existence is a struggle between our various preferences over time. Our long-term and near-term preferences are continually churn to create inconsistencies of behavior that are totally irrational. We tackle this frustrating inconsistency by attempting to strike bargains between our various preferences. He calls this intertemporal bargaining. I love this idea that the inside of our head is like disputatious committee meeting; i.e. it’s a governance problem.
Ainslie, et. al. have found only a very few tactics for the problem. Of which I find preparation of emotion fascinatingly perverse. It puts our nominally irrational self to work to achieve improved rationality. Since we know we can not trust ourselves to stick to our earlier agreements we roll up a bundle of emotion to deploy at the moment the temptation arises to break our earlier agreement.
A simple example of this might be the angry choice break off from a prior commitment, say a lover. Knowing we will be tempted to fall into the old pattern and it’s pleasures we prepare a knot of anger which can be deployed to counteract that temptation. Or we might learn to fear something we know will tempt us; and certainly we are all familiar with the seemingly irrational passion that others will bring to bear on avoiding something things – things which we do not find tempting or possibly enjoy. Or consider the situation were we are tempted by a near term lesser good (a lousy cookie for example) v.s. a distant but significantly better one (a fine dinner); in that situation winding up a emotional disgust to make it easier to shun the near term temptation.
I love that: it’s can be entirely rational to emote.